Jim Kenyon: Quechee renters shown the door en masse, with little recourse


Valley News Columnist

Published: 02-06-2022 7:03 AM

Joey Peterson thought he heard someone in late January outside the third-floor apartment he shares with his mother and a roommate in Quechee.

When he checked, all he found was an envelope taped to the door.

Inside was a letter from the property maintenance company that manages the apartment building just off Route 4 on Quechee Hartland Road.

“Your tenancy will terminate for no cause on April 30, 2022, and you will be required to vacate the apartment on that day,” the two-paragraph letter stated.

“It was so out of the blue,” the 31-year-old Peterson told me. “We don’t have anywhere to go. There’s no place to rent around here that we can afford.”

It turns out that Peterson, who is between jobs after recently working as a housekeeper, wasn’t the only one in Quechee to find an envelope taped to his door.

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Last week, VTDigger reported that at least 18 tenants in Peterson’s building and a nearby apartment complex on Cross Street received eviction notices in late January.

What’s this all about?

In November, a Boston real estate investment and development company called MG2 purchased the two apartment buildings for a combined $2.8 million.

Both aging apartment buildings sold for more than double their assessed value, according to Hartford property records. It seems like a lot of money for workforce housing.

I think it’s fair to assume, though, that MG2 has a plan to recoup its investment and then some.

In a 2017 story, The Boston Globe described the redevelopment strategy used by MG2 and other investors of the same ilk. The story focused on a 14-unit, low-income apartment building that MG2 purchased in East Boston for $1.9 million.

MG2 told the Globe that it needed tenants to move out so it could make substantial renovations to the building that was in disrepair.

“This kind of mass eviction — known as a building clearout — has become increasingly commonplace in Boston neighborhoods like East Boston, Dorchester and Roxbury, as investors continue to ride a wave of new development and construction that has pushed up property values and inflated rents,” the Globe wrote. “Typically, developers renovate the properties and charge higher, market-rate rents, or convert units into condominiums.”

I wanted to ask MG2 executives about their plans for the two Quechee apartment complexes, but they didn’t return my phone calls last week.

MG2 also bought two other apartment complexes in Hartford last fall to bring its spending spree in town to nearly $6 million, according to Vermont property transfer tax returns. (MG2 is doing business in Vermont under a limited liability corporation, Quechee Main II.)

The company paid $1.65 million for an apartment complex on Harvest Lane in Wilder and $1.5 million for a 3-acre parcel near Quechee Gorge that includes a bunch of small apartments in four one-story buildings.

I was curious about MG2’s attraction to Hartford. Its website gives a clue: “MG2 thrives on the ability to envision opportunities in areas traditionally ignored by most investors and real estate companies.”

The president and founder of MG2 is an Irish immigrant named John McGrail, who moved to the U.S. when he was 20. Over the years, he’s become a major player in Boston’s redevelopment market, and beyond.

In 2012, the Globe reported that starting in 2004, McGrail “purchased a wide array of property in five states using about 20 different holding companies. He bought warehouses and shuttered industrial properties in Roxbury, pubs around Boston, and several apartment buildings in Dallas, Jacksonville, Fla., and other communities.”

No doubt before swooping into Hartford, MG2 must have done its homework on Vermont, in general. Under state law, it’s fairly easy for landlords to seek “no cause” evictions when lease has expired.

“The law doesn’t protect tenants even when they’ve done everything right,” Devon Ayers, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid in Burlington, told me. “The landlord has the right to kick them out.”

Peterson, who has lived in his apartment for four years, is on a month-to-month lease. In Vermont, anyone who has lived in a place for two years is entitled to 90 days’ notice, which is what Peterson received.

In the housing-starved Upper Valley, the two apartment buildings in Quechee were among the few places where working-class individuals and families could turn.

Peterson and his mother, Sarah, who earns $18 an hour as a housekeeper at an inn, split the $1,400 monthly rent on the three-bedroom apartment with a roommate, who works at the VA Medical Center.

“We like it here,” said Peterson, who was walking his small dog, Baby Girl, when I approached him in the building’s parking lot last Wednesday. “It’s peaceful and it’s a good location for work.”

After receiving the eviction notice, which is dated Jan. 28, Peterson called the deliverer of the bad news — Real Property Management Beacon, which is based in downtown Lebanon.

“We’ve tried reaching them, but nobody there will pick up the phone,” Peterson told me.

When I called Thursday, a woman responded politely that I could expect to hear back from Weston Thayne, the company’s owner. I’m still waiting.

Vermont Legal Aid, the nonprofit that assists low-income residents in civil matters, told me it’s interested in hearing more from the tenants in Quechee. “We’re seeing similar things in other towns,” Ayers said.

Vermont lawmakers are now considering a proposal that places a moratorium on no-cause evictions through June 30, 2023. The bill “recognizes that we’re in one of the most extreme housing crises we’ve ever been in,” said Ayers, who testified before a House committee on Thursday. “Without systematic change, people are going to keep losing their housing.”

Even if the proposed moratorium becomes law, it won’t come in time to help Peterson and his neighbors.

But it could save other working-class renters from finding unexpected envelopes taped to their doors.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.